Geographic Expansion in eCommerce: A roadmap for success

Annabel Fay
6 min readMar 30, 2020


In these unprecedented times, commerce is changing. You might be seeing increased demand for delivery as stores close, new geographies exploring your site, and unprecedented change. During the COVID-19 pandemic, you might be considering how to explore this new global demand. In this blog, we look at practical tips for geographic expansion.

Customer expectations are rising and technology is putting them firmly at the centre of how they shop, search and share. In order to compete, brands are turning to new markets and leading with experience. Social media has opened up consumers to brands from all over the world, but also brands to new consumers.

The opportunity to become established at an international level, engage new customers and ultimately, open up additional revenue streams is an enticing prospect for any brand with ambitions for growth. But, successful internationalisation is by no means simple.

Performing well within your core market is not enough to guarantee success outside of it. There are many challenges associated with expansion, from understanding the cultural norms of a new market, to adapting to individual preference, and to unifying the data and technology that supports it.

Creating True Experience-Driven Commerce

If you already have an international presence and are looking for further growth, there are a couple of areas you can review and action. If you have technical debt, look into how you can reduce it. Ask how you can build faster release cycles,some market leaders have weekly releases. Onboard any websites not on your .com platform so you get one unified view of your data. Optimise your multi-channel experience with unified customer journeys and integrated touch-points supported by your tech stack. None of these are easy, but they are generally needed for long-term success.

By taking it a stage further to Experience-Driven Commerce you’ll create engaged and loyal customers, with a unified, personalised and thoughtful experience, who become your brand ambassadors no matter where they are in the world.

First Steps

For most companies with a minimal global presence who are looking to take their first steps, surveying the global landscape and the possibility, as well as the competition, can be daunting. The commerce environment is complex, and there are many unknowns in new markets at the start of the process.

A gradual approach to expanding internationally is most often the best, especially if you need to build a business case for a broader strategy. Quick wins give confidence and create momentum, so, look for the relevant markets that are small enough to adapt to quickly.

Online traffic data offers valuable insight into where the customers shopping in your eCommerce store are based outside of your core market. Dig into your web traffic to understand from which countries people browse your site, analyse trends, and check for social media signals to determine which countries are fertile ground for growth.

Use this data to pinpoint where to go first. As they are already engaged with the brand, expansion into these countries should be more straightforward. Additionally, eCommerce data will show previous purchase patterns and preferences, which must be used to create engaging offers for the local customer.

Research payment methods- for example, in Vietnam, cash on delivery is the norm- so you may need a logistics partner who can handle that, as well as a technology partner with on-demand support locally to understand cultural nuances. Lots of retailers invest in 24/7 support from their systems integrator- preferably in the same time zone and with multiple language capabilities. Most will support market sizing and create your road map for success with you.

As a first step, you can make international shipments available from your home market. However, at this early stage you will need to consider how you will ship your products, accept various payment methods, and comply with tax and other local laws.

The other option is to outsource all elements to cross-border suppliers who will get your site ready, will facilitate currency conversion to accepting payments, through to logistics and compliance with import and local tax laws.

This will enable you to identify the potential of various markets and key challenges (e.g. differing tastes and merchandising, organisational realignment, new eCommerce platforms to support scaling) and allow you to adjust the strategy accordingly.

Build Your Strategy

Now you’ve taken the first steps in the international market, it’s time to build your roadmap with or without a trusted partner. It can be helpful to initially target a small number of strategic, high potential growth countries to focus your efforts, and as you roll out each website, partner with an international fulfilment provider to plug into your own checkout experience for the remaining markets.

Make sure to optimise your current website to support the increased traffic, multiple currencies or sub-domains, and tax implications. Staggering it out and leaning on support reduces the risk- if your website is built on a common platform you can often take advantage of the extensive, virtually ‘plug and play’, partner network.

Test, Launch and Refine

As you prepare for the launch of your site, make sure to test, test and test again. Small details, such as umlauts in CMS systems can throw a project behind. Isobar Commerce’s ‘test, measure, refine’ philosophy helps clients identify the best opportunity to improve transactional experience, and ultimately, conversions.

Once your site is launched, and being continually tested, measured, and refined alongside a partner with local technical support, you can bring it back to ensuring you’re competing against marketplaces with an incredible brand experience that fits into your customer’s lives.

Understand Your Customers, Globally

Having road mapped, picked your strategic countries, selected your partners, and launched, think back to the experience you’re providing your customers, which should be at the heart of your plan for success.

Delivering a localised experience goes far beyond site translation into the local language, although even that is nuanced within English-speaking countries. A “sweater” in the U.S. is a “jumper” in the U.K., for example. Make sure you localise, not simply translate- it can be the number one hindrance to conversion- but other factors include address formats and checkout preferences, such as left to right vs right to left reading.

Usability also plays a big part in a localised experience that resonates with customers. For example, completely separate product photography featuring local models or up-close shots of stitching and labels can confirm authenticity.

Finally, campaigns may need a local makeover too, as some countries start end-of-season sales earlier than others, and weather conditions in different hemispheres trigger the need for different clothing. Again, this is where a partner who is laser-focused on marketing can be helpful.

Be Flexible and Ready to Adapt

Internationalisation is not something that will happen overnight, nor is it always likely to follow the path originally set out. Approach it as a long-term investment and be prepared to act in an agile manner.

If your current strategy isn’t working you must be willing to change tack or, in some cases, step back altogether. Keeping close to customer data will help detect developments in the market and identify where changes need to be made. But with technology becoming more sophisticated, successful expansion is easier than ever to achieve.

Top questions to consider for your localisation approach:

  • What is your product catalogue and inventory mix? Is there one central warehouse selling the same products across all targeted countries or are there exclusive products per country?
  • What is your price strategy? Will the item price be the same across all regions?
  • What is your approach for campaigns and promotions? Is it one size fits all or country-specific?
  • Will you have individual teams in the respective countries? What is their size and level of web management skills?
  • How can you give customers, no matter where they are based, a unified personalised experience you build an engaged and loyal base?

Our report, ‘Augmented Humanity: 2020 trends report is a stimulating, informative and thought-provoking toolkit for brands. Download it now to not only learn more about the trends shaping the industry, but also contextualise them for your roadmap for 2020- and beyond.

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